The Power of Story

When I was a young believer, the youth leaders in our church taught us the importance of learning to share our conversion story. They explained that there is great power in articulating how the truth and good news of Jesus radically transformed our life. They were right. But what we were not taught was that we have many testimonies of God’s presence, faithfulness, deliverance and power unleashed in our lives.

Is God Present, Active and Moving Today? 

Many nonbelievers don’t believe Christians believe what we say we believe. Pause and read that last sentence one more time. The truth is people who have not personally encountered Jesus often think that Christians are just playing church, doing religion or following some family tradition. They can’t recognize the real presence of our Savior at work in our life. They have no idea that Jesus is our ever-present source of hope, joy, strength, meaning and so much more.

When you and I share a story about how God drew near us in a time of loneliness and carried us through, irreligious people become interested. When we talk about a time when we felt powerless but God filled and sustained us, this creates curiosity. When we describe a time of oppressive anxiety and explain that the peace of Jesus kept our heads above water, this prompts others to ask about our faith. Every testimony of God’s work in our life speaks volumes to people who are wondering if there is something more than what this world offers.

Our nonbelieving friends, family members and acquaintances might disagree with our doctrinal convictions about Jesus, sin, the church, heaven, hell, morality and other topics. What they rarely do is disagree with what we have experienced on a deeply personal level. Our stories reveal that we have met the God who is present, active and moving in our life.

With that in mind, here are a few guidelines for sharing stories of faith in a way that really connects with people in our world today (and helps us avoid pitfalls and off-ramps):

1. Listen prayerfully and ask good questions.

Jesus was more likely to ask questions than give answers. We should be like our Savior. Before we share our testimonies, we need to hear the stories of the people God places in our life and along our path. Ask a question and then ask two or three more. Be patient. Listen. Pray. Ask more questions. 

Don’t do this as a strategy so you can unload your preconceived religious script. Ask and listen because people are loved by God and by you. Ask questions because every person you meet is truly fascinating, and their story is unique.

Listen well because you have many stories of God’s presence, deliverance, provision, leading and movement in your life. How do you know what story to share with each person you meet? You learn by listening to them and tuning in to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. 

2. Discern felt needs and points of life struggle.

As you ask questions and listen well, seek to discern where a person is in their life. Are they struggling with loneliness? Does fear grip their heart? Is their future uncertain? Are they anxious about health issues, economic challenges or their relational world? Are they filled with joy? Is life going well? Do they have a lot of spiritual questions?

Jesus is the only one who can meet our deepest needs. He will be our closest friend. He can bring peace, and he offers direction in a confused world. As we discern the felt needs of a person, we can share a story from our own spiritual journey that will help them see that God actually cares and helps people through the very things they are facing in life.

3. Rigorously avoid political, partisan or provoking ideas and language.

We live in a time when people will shut down if they sense we are pushing a political agenda or advocating a partisan worldview. There is nothing wrong with Christians having strong convictions about how society and a nation should function and be led. But there is nothing that matters as much as people meeting, knowing and loving Jesus. Our stories of faith will be heard best when they are not woven together with political convictions or contentious rhetoric. 

When we are telling of Jesus’ faithfulness, surprising movement in our life, staggering provision or outpouring of peace and joy, this is not the time to go on a tangent about our view on current societal tensions.

4. Focus on how faith in Jesus brings meaning, peace and love to your life.

There are some universal things that almost everyone has on their mind. Nonbelievers all around the world wonder, Where do I find real and lasting peace? Can I be loved and valued in this hostile world? What is the meaning of my life? These and other foundational life questions are built into the soul of ordinary people from every walk of life. 

As we share our testimonies, we can talk about how our faith in Jesus and following him has given us meaning, brought peace and assured us of love today and forever. This will almost always resonate with family and friends who are spiritually curious but not yet following Jesus. 

You have experienced what so many people only dream of having in their heart and life. You have peace for today and forever in Jesus. You know your eternal destination. You have purpose and meaning in your life. You feel the heavenly love of God. When you tell others about these profound realities, they often wonder if there is a God who will offer them what you have. And you know there is.

5. Talk about intimacy with God and the friendship you have with Jesus.

We all have people in our life who do not believe in Jesus and who have not embraced his grace and truth. They don’t agree with our theology, but they like us. We have a valued relationship with these people. When we share stories of how we feel intimacy with God and friendship with Jesus, this can cause a discontinuity for these people.

They like and respect us. They don’t believe Jesus is real. But we talk and act like we have a living and personal relationship with our God. They might wonder if we are crazy, or if maybe we have actually encountered God. When Jesus is our closest friend and we speak of our intimacy with him, this can create real spiritual curiosity. 

As you build friendships with nonbelievers and walk with family members who are far from God, tell your stories. You will help shine the light of Jesus in a way that will draw people to the good and loving Lord who has opened his arms and heaven to all who will receive his grace.

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Kevin Harney
Kevin Harneyhttp://KevinGHarney.com

Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International (OrganicOutreach.org). He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.